Renan Barao: I Don’t Respect T.J. Dillashaw‏

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When T.J. Dillashaw dethroned Renan Barao in May of last year to become the bantamweight champion, it was considered among the biggest upsets in UFC history. A little over a year on from his only defeat in the UFC, Barao is just days away from taking on Dillashaw for a second time in an attempt to reclaim the title. Recently, the former champion took time out to speak about the upcoming bout at a media day at Nova Uniao.

“We’ll dictate the rhythm of the fight,” Barao said of the approaching rematch. “Unfortunately I couldn’t dictate the rhythm of the first fight because I took a hard punch at the beginning of the fight and I was too slow, so he fought the way he wanted and that’s why the fight was standing the entire time.”

Barao (33-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) was unable to participate in a rematch scheduled for UFC 177 after he was hospitalised ahead of the bout due to complications surrounding his weight cut. Dillashaw (11-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) defended his title against last-minute replacement Joe Soto, but Barao still refuses to recognise the Team Alpha Male product as the champion.

“I just don’t respect him,” said Barao. “I just don’t respect him as a champion. He talks too much, he is a joker, and that’s why I don’t consider him a champion.”

The rematch between the current and former champions had been rescheduled to take place at Montreal’s Bell Centre on April 25, but a fractured rib sustained by Dillashaw in training forced him to withdraw, and the much-anticipated bout was postponed for a second time. Barao has said that he has spent much of the interim working on his ground game.

“Since the fight was postponed, I used the time to work on my jiu-jitsu, train in the gi,” the former champ explained. “I just do my job. I know I train a lot of jiu-jitsu with the best in the world, and if he wants to go to the ground with me, he’ll be in trouble.”

Barao, 28, spoke about his recent victory over Mitch Gagnon, the stress of fighting at home, and of feeling less pressure now that he no longer has a nine-year win streak to defend.

“I had never fought for the UFC in Brazil before,” Barao said of his fight with Gagnon. “Fighting in Brazil is different. The adrenaline is completely different. I’m definitely cool with it now, though. I’m lighter, I’m absorbing new techniques, and I’ll be ready to go in there and fight like I always have,” he continued. “I think there’s more pressure on [Dillashaw] as the champion, like there was on me before, but the goal is to let my game flow, be relaxed, confident, and bring the belt back to Brazil.”

Barao was quizzed on the apparent speed advantage that Dillashaw enjoyed over him in their first fight, but was reluctant to give credit to the current champion, instead attributing the speed differential to the fact that he got caught with a punch in the first round.

“I got hit in the beginning of the fight [against Dillashaw], and I was too slow. You saw in his next fight that he wasn’t as fast as he was against me. I’m not worried about [his speed]. I’m fast enough to trade with him… I got hit and was like a Zombie. I couldn’t throw my punches and kicks like I should have been able to.”

Rumours have long been circulating regarding a potential move to Featherweight for Barao. These rumours were bolstered when Barao had trouble making weight for the initial rematch with Dillashaw. Asked whether he would consider moving up if his teammate Jose Aldo vacated the division, Barao indicated that he had no immediate intention to do so.

“I think I have a lot of work to do at 135lbs,” he said. “I plan on staying in this division for a long time. But I don’t make that call. I have an entire team and they make the call. What’s best for the team is what will happen.”

Barao takes on Dillashaw in the much-awaited rematch this weekend on UFC on FOX 16.